Building better bridges to post-secondary education

Connections either big or small, direct or indirect, matter. For one Fort McMurray Catholic Schools student, a connection Syncrude made means his future is looking up and bright.

Robbie Buffalo, a Grade 11 student at Holy Trinity Catholic High School, says he’s looking forward to going to university to pursue his dream.

“This is like a dream come true,” says Robbie, who’s been offered a scholarship at the University of Alberta (U of A) playing football with the Golden Bears in 2022. The football team’s coaches have also set him up with a mentor. “Most of my family members haven’t even graduated high school. To be chosen, and to be selected to go on a scholarship for my academic skills is really great.”

Kevin Garbuio, a vocational education teacher at Father Mercredi High School, was instrumental in making the connection between the University and Robbie. Between 2015 and 2018 he brought students to the USchool program at the university. USchool aims to introduce and connect students in Grades 4 through 9 from socially vulnerable Indigenous and rural communities to the U of A. Students attend the program for a week on campus. While it’s offered at no cost to participating schools, they are responsible for their own transportation. That’s where Syncrude stepped in to provide transportation for the groups of students attending the program in Edmonton.

A group of students from the Fort McMurray Catholic Schools attend USchool at the University of Alberta (Photo supplied)

We established a relationship with the U of A through the USchool program. We then started reaching out to their athletics department and we were able to send seven to eight kids a year to their camps.

– Kevin Garbuio

That was the connection that Robbie needed to get the scholarship that will set him on a bright future.

Monica Mankowski, Deputy Superintendent at the Fort McMurray Catholic Schools District, says the whole district is proud of what Robbie has accomplished so far. But she also wants to acknowledge Syncrude for its support over the years.

We recognize that in Fort McMurray one of the barriers is the distance to a university.

– Monica Mankowski

“Syncrude supported the idea of how do we actually create a better bridge to post-secondary programs when our students have to go so far away to universities; away from family, away from a support system, and being totally independent. It can be quite a significant barrier for some student and we wanted to plant seeds to future options for students in our community.”

Kara Flynn, Syncrude’s Vice President, Government and Public Affairs, says she’s delighted to hear about Robbie’s story.

“Helping students get ahead by being a part of their education, training and advancement plays into the strength of Syncrude as a company. We believe in assisting our community to make it stronger and robust,” says Kara.

Seeing a student like Robbie on his path to success is gratifying and fulfilling.

– Kara Flynn

Over three years about 80 Fort McMurray Catholic School students have participated in the USchool program and about 30 per cent of them are planning to attend university when they finish high school.

To learn more about USchool click here.

Syncrude and USchool program

Syncrude has supported USchool through the U of A Chancellor’s Cup Golf Tournament. Over the years the company has invested close to $440,000 in the tournament. The funds raised through the tournament are used to support the USchool Program. When the Chancellor’s Cup was cancelled in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, Syncrude made a direct donation.

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